Like all culinary styles requiring a complex balance of spice, Indian cuisine is a difficult one to judge. Although I’ve been to India, am perfectly capable of rustling up a decent curry and have tried a fair few in my time (I should change the name of my blog to ‘Butter is Better but ghee is great too’), I can rarely find fault with this genre of cooking.
Yes, sometimes the papadoms are soggy with oil and the dhansak lacking that perfect balance of hot and sour, but this is a cuisine I enjoy regardless. Perhaps it’s the exotic allure of dishes I cannot pronounce, perhaps it’s the massive portions, or perhaps I just crave food beyond my childhood of dry roast dinners… but give me cumin, cardamom and chutney, and I will be content.
This brings me rather neatly to Namaaste, an upmarket-ish Indian restaurant on Parkway in Camden, currently working their way through a set of monthly regional menus (this month being Lucknov). Alongside the normal menu (which is excellent and already features many unusual dishes), they’re serving kebabs, Saalans and Kalias - all specific to the North Indian city and the Awadh region in which it lies.
Dal Chini Macchi
Delicious, pink salmon flesh quick smoked using a technique called Dhungar (sprinkling spices – in this case cinnamon - onto a hot coal, followed by ghee, then trapping the smoke with the fish).
Without cheese or spice to perk it up, the humble cauliflower can be a touch bland for my tastes. This dish however, used crackled curry leaves and tangy mustard seeds to lightly dust the white florets with subtle flavour.
Curry of sea bass, first dipped in rice batter and fried in mustard oil, then served with a traditional Avadhi gravy. The crunchy fillets, with lightly steamed white flesh, worked perfectly with the rich saffron and turmeric-laced gravy. I ignored the rice in favour of springy and sweet quarters of coconut-filled Peshwari Nan.
This creamy lamb curry was probably the most unusual out of the dishes we tried, mostly because the menu described it as ‘hot and sharp’. It was neither. The soya based, almost korma-like sauce was, however, oddly Moorish and the morsels of meat tender.
Our dishes were ‘matched’ with wines. A lovely idea, but not one I felt worked very well here. The wines were fine, but I couldn’t see how a heavy red worked with a creamy lamb curry and sense it was the old ‘dark meat – dark wine’ thinking without very much thought at all. If I went again, I honestly think I’d be happier with the house or one of their very delicious cocktails.
Ironically, us Brits are already quite familiar with some of North India’s most famous dishes (biryanis, keema, korma). And, whilst delicious, I didn’t find much in Naamaste’s Lucknow menu to take me out of this ‘safe zone’. Now I’m not saying I didn’t have a tasty lunch, or that I wouldn’t happily eat it again. But if you’re going to offer a menu like this, celebrating the culinary regions of India, it should feel like a celebration. This felt like a polite version of the (much better) regular menu.